Ultimate Guide for CPA Canada Core 1

In this article, I will provide information about the CPA Canada’s Core 1 module, outlining the basics, format, assignments, assessment, examination, and tips for successfully passing the module.

Related readings:

What’s Core 1?

Core 1 is the first of six modules in the CPA Canada Professional Education Program (PEP) that will lead you to the Common Final Exam (CFE). Completing the core modules (Core 1 and Core 2) is required before you can choose your elective modules, complete the capstones, and sit in the CFE.

The objective of Core 1 is to teach and test you on financial reporting (FR), Assurance, Tax, and Finance. Of these, FR is the biggest part of the module and the exam.

Examples of FR topics include:

  • Revenue recognition
  • Financial instruments
  • Non-monetary transactions
  • Related-party transactions
  • PPE
  • Inventory

Core 1 is provided in an online format, with all assignments, readings and quizzes taken on the website Desire 2 Learn (D2L). You’ll get access to D2L about a week before the Core 1 start date.

How long is it?

Core 1 is 8-weeks long and most students take this standard 8-week path. However, you can take the extended version and finish Core 1 in 5 months. This is recommended for students who are busy or like to study in a slower pace.

You can also challenge Core 1, where you skip the entire module and just take the exam. This is allowed only in special circumstances, such as for internationally trained accountants under MRA/MOU.

You can also complete Core 1 in a format called fast-track. With fast-track, you take Core 1 and Core 2 together. This is the fastest way to finish the CPA program. I recommended fast-track only for those who are not working, because you won’t have time to do all the assigned readings if you work full-time or part-time.

Is there an instructor?

You’ll be assigned an online facilitator at Core 1. Their job is to answer questions via email, provide feedback on assignments, help you find information, and facilitate the forums. You won’t see them in-person, since the module is online.

There is also a module workshop (MWS) and an orientation workshop (OWS). These workshops are mandatory two-day events, where you’ll participate in several activities led by a session leader. These activities include a review on technical material and case writing techniques. I previously worked as a session leader with CPA Canada.

Prior to the workshop, you’ll be required to complete workshop pre-work and submit to D2L dropbox. Surveys are also required to be completed after each workshop. Workshops are your only chance of seeing someone live, so I suggest taking advantage of them and asking lots of questions. You should also network with your classmates and try to form a study group.

What are the assignments?

Core 1 module consists of weekly assignments that are made up of:

  • Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)
  • Integrative problems (IPs)
  • Practice cases (PCs)

MCQs are small problems that test on various technical topics.

Below is an example of a Core 1 MCQ:

The IPs are short-answer assignments that test the technical material learned in the weekly unit.

Below is an example of Core 1 IP:

The PCs are 60-minute cases designed to simulate the actual Core 1 module exam.

Below is an example of Core 1 PC:

Most students find the exam to be harder than the PCs, so I suggest practicing with retired exam cases (discussed below) and mock exam simulations.

The IPs and PCs are to be completed using Microsoft Word and Excel, and uploaded to D2L weekly. The deadline is typically Friday night. Your facilitator will personally mark and provide you with feedback a few days after submission. Feedback is provided in the form of an Excel file, referred to as the Feedback Guide (FG), which will show you how you scored in each assessment. Solutions will automatically be provided to you upon submission. If an assignment is not submitted, the solutions will be released after the deadline.  

Below is an example of a Core 1 FG:

Each row in the feedback guide is graded as:

  • No (N): You didn’t attempt the element (Note: Each element in FG is known as MPI, which stands for minimum proficiency indicator) .
  • Partially (P): You attempted the element to some degree.
  • Yes (Y): You fully achieved the element as needed.

The MCQs are marked automatically by the system.

You will also be provided with retired exam cases (actual cases from past module exams). These are optional but I recommend to practice them under time-constraint to see how ready you are for the final exam.

How is it graded?

The IPs and PCs are made up of assessment opportunities (AOs). Grades are provided individually by AO and will be ranked as one of the following:

  • Competent with distinction (CD): Above the required answer, much detail was provided.
  • Competent (C): Well-balanced response. This is what you’re striving for.
  • Reaching competent (RC): Identified the AO, but the response lacks depth and/or breadth (missing some critical points)
  • Nominal competence (NC): Attempted but lacked a sufficient analysis or completely inaccurate.
  • Not addressed (NA): Didn’t attempt to answer the AO. Usually when you are out of time or don’t catch it.

Your target grade for an AO is a C. The PCs have 5 AOs and the IPs will range from 3 to 6 AOs. The actual Core 1 exam will have 5 AOs.

The RC/C scores in IPs and PCs give you certain number of points. To be eligible to write the exam (discussed below), you need to get at least 75% total grade from your weekly assignments. The course is weighed as follows:

  • IPs: 30%
  • PCs: 30%
  • Unit quizzes and MWS pre-work: 30%
  • MWS participation and OWS: 10%

You should not worry about getting this 75% threshold. Most student reach the 75% mark and get to write the exam; the real challenge is passing the exam.

What’s module syllabus?

The syllabus lists the weekly readings and assignments. You can use the syllabus as a checklist and narrow down topics to study. To download the syllabus, click here.

What are the exams?

There is only one final exam at the end of the module. The exam is 4 hours and consists of 75 MCQs and one 60-minute case. Some students write the 75 MCQs first then tackle the case, others write the case then answer the MCQs. I recommend that you start with the case.

Below is the exam blueprint that shows the weighing of the 4 technical competencies tested in Core 1 MCQs:

As you can see, Financial Reporting is the biggest subject. I recommend that you spend most of your study time on FR.

It’s important to note that the exam is not based on the syllabus, it’s based on the CPA Canada Competency Map. So there will be topics tested in the exam that you didn’t see in the syllabus, PCs, and IPs. You should expect to see surprises.

How many tries do I get?

You have 3 attempts to pass Core 1. If you don’t pass in your first try,  you can challenge the next exam without taking the entire module again. If you don’t pass in your second try, you’ll need to re-take the entire module for 3rd and final attempt. If you don’t pass in your third attempt, you’ll be de-registered. Here is further reading on how to re-register and try Core 1 for the 4th time.

What are the textbooks?

Each study unit in the Core 1 syllabus covers chapters in the Learning eBooks. The Learning eBooks are PDF textbooks given to you by CPA Canada when you register for Core 1. The eBook chapters provide e-lessons, technical drills, examples,  summary problems and so on. While it may not be possible for you to study each eBook chapter, prioritize the subjects you see more frequently on cases, such as revenue recognition. Here is more information on how to download the CPA Canada Learning eBooks.

You will also be provided with the CPA Canada Handbook. This will contain Financial Reporting (eg IFRS and ASPE) standards. 

The platform that has the Handbook and other authoritative materials, such as the Income Tax Act, is known as Knotia. You will be using the eBook and Knotia (which has the Handbook, ITA, etc) throughout the module. Here are tips on how to access and use the Handbook.

You don’t get access to the eBook during the exam, but you get access to the Handbook. You’ll use Handbook to look up the accounting standards and the tax rules. You’ll also be provided with a “cheat sheet” during the exam, with a list of common ratios, a tax shield formula, and other relevant tax information. You can’t take your own notes to the exam. 

What should I study?

As you saw in the blueprint, FR is the biggest portion.  I suggest spending most of your time studying the FR area.

The exam’s case portion will mainly test on FR, and 1 or 2 other areas (eg. Assurance, Finance and/or Tax). For example, your exam case may have 3 FR AOs (eg. revenue recognition, PPE, impairment), 1 Tax AO (eg. small business deduction) and 1 Assurance AO (eg. control deficiencies). Or it may have 4 FR AOs (eg. revenue recognition, PPE, impairment, inventory) and 1 Assurance AO (eg. procedures). This changes every semester and I can provide you tips and estimates on what I think will come up in my Core 1 success program.

For the MCQ portion, FR is again the most weighted subject. I suggest that you practice D2L MCQs in FR, Assurance, Finance and Tax areas. Don’t study Management Accounting or Strategy and Governance, these are not tested in Core 1 at all.

I give more tips on how to prepare and pass the Core 1 exam in my YouTube channel (Gevorg, CPA).

What’s the Core 1 pass rate?

The Core 1 pass rate is around 75%. 

Why do students fail Core 1?

There are many reasons why students don’t pass. First, Core 1 is a fast-paced module and it’s difficult to complete all the readings. It is also a self-lead course; while there is a facilitator for questions, you are responsible for managing your time, planning your readings and understanding the material.

Secondly, the module has a wide range of topics, which most find challenging to keep track and remember. This makes the MCQs very difficult, because they have a variety of complex technical topics.

Thirdly, the cases are very time-constrained and most find it difficult to complete within the 60-minute time frame. You will need to have at least 50 WPM typing speed and good understanding of topics because you won’t have time to think during the exam.

Overall, not having enough time to study and time management during the exam are the biggest reasons students don’t pass.

Note that the exam results are “curved” based on average performance and CPA Canada doesn’t reveal how they mark the exam. From my experience, passing the exam requires getting only RC and C grades, with only 1 or max. 2 NCs. If you get 2 NC grades, you will need several Cs to offset it.

Do I need a tutor?

Hiring a tutor is a personal preference and it depends on your circumstances. A CPA tutor brings their expertise, helping to identify your weaknesses, reinforce your strengths, teach complex topics, reveal what topics are most tested, thus helping you speed up your study time and increase your chances of passing the exam.

If you attempt Core 1 by yourself and don’t pass it, I suggest that you consider getting a tutor. But if you are successful, then you can keep doing what works for you.

Extra resources

Extra Core 1 resources are available at Core 1 Review course.